A Closer Look – ‘And who is better in speech than he who calls to Allah?’

‘And who is better in speech than he who calls to Allah?’

To be forbearing is to win a war against your own ego. Forbearance is self-control and restraint. It is a hallmark of mercy and patience and reflects the beauty of Islam on many levels. Allah of course is Al-Halim (The Forbearing One). His creation disobey Him, worship other than Him, disbelieve in Him, but He still provides for them, allowing them to make use of His provisions in His creation. Allah, in His infinite Mercy grants respite to the sinner, assisting him to find his way back and receiving the sinner with forgiveness. That a person could sin against Allah for the entirety of a life and find guidance back to Allah at a final moment, and then to be met with forgiveness is reflective of Allah’s most perfect forbearance:

“As for those of you who turned away on the day the two armies met in battle, it was Satan who caused them to slip, through some of their actions. God has now pardoned them: God is most forgiving and forbearing,” [Qur’an 3:155]

“A kind word and forgiveness is better than a charitable deed followed by hurtful words]: God is self-sufficient, forbearing. Some Prophets in the Qur’an were noted for their observance of forbearance such as Ibrahim in relation to his desire that his father be forgiven.” [Qur’an 2:263]

“Abraham asked forgiveness for his father because he had made a promise to him, but once he realized that his father was an enemy of God, he washed his hands of him, Abraham was tender-hearted and forbearing.” [Qur’an 9:114]

There are many things that can impede a productive engagement with another, such as, bad mannerisms, aggression, impatience and mockery. For the Muslim, it is important to remember that he or she should do his utmost to ensure that the best of character is displayed. Excellent character is the hallmark of a Muslim, and for the Muslim there is an added emphasis since he is presenting Islam with his conduct. When the Prophet (peace be upon him) dispatched Mu’adh ibn Jabal (Allah be pleased with him) to Yemen to call the Christians to Islam he advised him to make things easy for the people – ‘Make things easy. and don’t make things hard. Give them good news and don’t make them run away from you.”[1] Mu’adh commented, “The last piece of advice the Prophet gave me, as I placed my foot on the saddle was “And make excellent your character O Mu’adh ibn Jabal!” The advice is paradigmatic and lays the foundation for effective communication of the message of Islam.

A person’s character can speak a much better and more vocal language than words, leaving a far lasting impression than words spoken. People tend to remember not so much what was said, but how it was said. Furthermore, a good character is the completion of a person. It is his most manifest attribute and for it he is loved or loathed. Ibn al-Qayyim said, “The entire religion is good character. Whoever therefore outdoes you in good character has outdone you in the religion.”[2]

There are many Prophetic instructions pertaining to the displaying of good character. The Prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned that the closest people to him and the most beloved to him on the Day of Judgement will be those who had the best character. He said that there is nothing that is heavier on the scale of a believer on the Day of Judgement than a good character. If the Muslim carries within him a beautiful character, it will be the most observable reflection of the effect of Islamic guidance on him. His speaking and listening, patience, forbearance and inner calm transcends his landscape and reflects the beauty of the call he is verbally presenting. Ibn Battal said: “In line with the character of a believer is to lower the wings of humility unto mankind, to have gentle speech, and leaving off roughness in speech to them, and that is from the strongest means of sincere affection.’[3]

The Muslim remembers that it is not himself that he is serving. It is not for the purpose of self-aggrandisement that he speaks about Allah. Though the Muslim, relevant to his contextual surrounding, adapts and appreciate the protocols of his circumstance, he must not lose sight of his purpose of reflecting the beauty of Islamic teachings. This is even if he is, at any moment, faced with arrogance, disdain and mockery or is overwhelmed with another’s wit and argumentative skill. The Muslim holds on to patience and remembers that it is not he who changes anyone’s heart, but that it is Allah who turns hearts.

Sometimes a display of magnanimity can be far more expressive than a sophisticated argument. At the heart of a discussion is precisely a heart, one that searches for a beautiful character. It might show that people want not only to be guided, but to find an honourable guide in their midst. Al-Hasan al-Basri said:

“The believer is forbearing; he does not behave ignorantly even if ignorance is done unto him. He is forbearing and does not wrong others. If he is wronged then he forgives. He does not cut off from people; and if he is cut off then he reconciles. He does not show miserliness. And if he is shown miserliness, then he instead shows patience.”[4]

A beautiful example of how such forbearance was demonstrated is found in the most excellent character of the Prophet (peace be upon him) when met by a disgruntled Bedouin:

“I was walking with the Messenger of Alläh (peace be upon him) and he had put on a mantle of Najran with a thick border. A bedouin met him and pulled the mantle so violently that I saw this violent pulling leaving marks of the border of the mantle on the skin of the neck of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him). And he (the bedouin) said: Muhammad, issue command that I should be given out of the wealth of Allah which is at your disposal. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) turned his attention to him and smiled, and then ordered for him a gift (provision).”[5]

In another narration, the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) companions were prepared to physically rebuke the Bedouin for his impudence, but the Prophet (peace be upon him) stopped them and showed that a teaching based on kindness and forbearance can be far more meaningful and transformative for all than retaliating. The Prophet (peace be upon him) repelled with what was better. Wahb ibn Munabbih said,

“Knowledge is the close friend of the believer, and forbearance is his minister, and intelligence is his proof, and actions are his worth, and patience is his leader, and compassion is his father, and gentleness is his brother.”[6]

A great demonstration of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) dealing with his enemies in a way that reflects a spirit of magnanimity and patience is seen in his conduct at the battle of Uhud. It is reported that during the Battle of Uhud, the Messenger of Alläh (peace be upon him) said, “O Allah, forgive my people for they do not know,” he voiced his supplication when his enemies slashed his face.”[7]

What emerges is the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) genuine concern for the salvation even of his enemies. Such description is akin to the man described in Sürah Yasin who came running from afar to deliver news to his people to follow the Messengers of Allah. As they struck him in anger, his concern was for his people and their salvation:

“I believe in your Lord, so listen to me.” [Qur’an 36:25]

“He was told, ‘Enter the Garden,’ so he said, ‘If only my people knew’. [Qur’an 36:26]

‘Amr ibn al-‘As (Allah be pleased with him), said, “The truly forbearing one is not one who is forbearing to those who tolerate him but insults whoever insults him. Rather, the truly forbearing one is forbearing to both those who tolerate him and to those who insult him.”[8]

‘Ali in Abi Talha reported: Ibn Abbas explained the verse, “Good and evil cannot be equal. [Prophet], repel evil with what is better and your enemy will become as close as an old and valued friend” (41:34) that it means, “Allah commands the believers to be patient when they feel angry, to be forbearing when confronted with ignorance, and to forgive when they are mistreated. If they do this, Allah will save them from Satan and subdue their enemies to them until they become like close friends.”[9]

[On Being Human by Dr. Osman Latiff, p. 89-93]


[1] Sabih al-Bukhari 7172.

[2] Madarij al-Salikin 2/294.

[3] Fath al-Bari, 10/528.

[4] Ibn Abi Dunya. 1246/54-55.

[5] Sabih Muslim 1057a.

[6] Al-Hafiz ibn Shahin, Al-Targhib fr Fada’il al-A’mal/251.

[7] Sahih In Hibban 985.

[8] al-Mudarah al-Nãs 6.

[9] http://quran.ksu.edu.sa/tafseer/katheer/sura41-aya35.html#katheer.

Previous articleThe Justice of Hell in Islam
Next articleWhy Shirk is the Greatest of Sins